A Colorado man is suing the U.S. secretary of state’s office for declining to issue him an American passport even though he was born in Texas, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver said.
Jaime Venegas, 35, was born in Socorro, Texas, and lives in Colorado. The U.S. Department of State has refused to issue him a passport twice even though he’s shown proof of citizenship, including a valid Texas birth certificate, according to the lawsuit.
Venegas is asking for acknowledgment of his citizenship status, a valid passport and paid attorney fees and any other costs.
“This is something we’ve seen impacting folks who were born near the border like Mr. Venegas,” Arash Jahanian, an attorney for the ACLU of Colorado, said.
State department officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Venegas lived in Juarez, Mexico, until he turned 16 and then moved to El Paso, Texas, where he finished high school. He moved to Colorado in 2005, working as a small business owner and farrier, his attorneys wrote in the lawsuit. He’s also married to a U.S. citizen, has two children who are U.S. citizens, and his mother became a legal resident through him before earning her citizenship. His father and two siblings are also citizens.
“Mr. Venegas’s U.S. citizenship was never questioned until he applied for a passport in 2014,” attorneys wrote in the complaint. That includes voting in elections with no problems.
Venegas applied for a passport in 2014 and submitted his birth certificate as evidence of citizenship, but the state department rejected the application, saying his birth certificate was not enough proof, according to the lawsuit. He applied again in 2016 and after being told his evidence was insufficient, he also provided health and immunization records, but he was denied again. If he were to reapply, he would have to pay all fees for the application for a third time.
“Defendant Secretary of State of the United States has wrongfully denied Plaintiff an American passport and denied him the right and privilege to travel outside of the United States and return to the United States as an American citizen,” attorneys wrote.
Venegas’ first denial was under the Obama administration — an issue that goes back to a change under George W. Bush’s administration. But the number of these types of denials has increased under the Trump administration, Jahanian said. And though a government has the right to ask for more information before granting a passport application, Venegas provided that information and was still denied, Jahanian said.
“This should be a very straight-forward case,” Jahanian said. “For reasons we don’t understand, someone is being denied rights as a citizen.”
He called the increase in denials another attack by the Trump administration on those it doesn’t believe belong in the country. The Washington Post reported an uptick in denials of applications for those born near the border last year as well as detentions of people with U.S birth certificates. In response, the state department issued a statement to the Washington Post saying it had not changed its policies or practices and was focusing on an area with fraud.